If placed on the ballot in 1991, a light-rail tax referendum could have a skewing effect on city council elections, Sandy Mayor Larry Smith warned Wednesday.
Smith is convinced the controversial transportation issue could attract hordes of uninformed citizens to the polls, which could result in unqualified candidates being elected to city councils.Accordingly, he wants the Salt Lake County Commission to delay the vote on a light-rail tax referendum until 1992.
City elections tend to have a dismal turnout, which worsens when there's not a mayoral race, he said. "Only 8 to 12 percent of the voters come out, but those 8 to 12 percent have generally focused on the city issues and understand them."
Smith said when an issue like light rail or the Olympics is placed on the ballot, the polls are jammed with big blocs of people who haven't any concept of what the city issues are.
"Then pleasant-sounding names or names that start A-B-C get the votes," Smith said. "We'd have people voting based on name identification - with no knowledge of who the people are or where they stand on the issues."
The proposal to build a $225 million light-rail commuter train and expanded bus system in Salt Lake County has been debated at hearings and meetings for six years. Yet as evident by testimony given at a recent public hearing, feelings are mixed as to whether the Salt Lake Valley needs such a system - and when the issue should be put before the electorate.
Many voters want the commission to place a quarter-cent sales tax increase on the 1991 ballot, maintaining now is an ideal time to let voters determine an issue without the distractions of a general election in 1992.
Others, including 6,526 valley residents who submitted a petition to the commission last at a public hearing last month, adamantly oppose alight-rail vote this year.
Some contend a vote during an off-election year would not attract enough voters, which would somehow tilt the election in favor of light-rail proponents.
Smith is more concerned it will negatively impact city elections.
"The Legislature had a reason for putting the city elections on the off-years of the regular elections," Smith said. "It was so people could focus on the city issues, which wouldn't be lost when the focus is on the gubernatorial or senatorial races."
Only in Salt Lake City is there a mayoral race this year. In other Salt Lake County cities, only some city council members are up for re-election.
"We pull away from their election when we put major issues like light rail or the Olympics on the ballot," Smith said. "That's counterproductive to electing good people to the city councils in Salt Lake Valley.
Salt Lake County Commission Chairman Jim Bradley believes the commission will decide by the end of June whether to put a light-rail tax referendum on the 1991 or 1992 ballot.
Written comment on the issue will still be taken through June 15.
People can send written comments to Bradley's office, Salt Lake County Government Center, 2001 S. State St., N2100, Salt Lake City, UT 84190.